German prosecutors have launched an international investigation into a suspected Chinese spy ring centering on three German nationals, including a former senior diplomat.
The three individuals, who prosecutors didn’t identify, haven’t been charged, according to a spokesman for the prosecutor in charge of the probe.
The spokesman said the three are suspected by investigators of having passed on sensitive information, including commercial data, to Chinese handlers.
German security officials have warned about a recent rise in Chinese spying activities focused on industrial and commercial secrets, military technology and intelligence, and Chinese dissidents abroad.
Germany’s domestic intelligence service warned in its annual report last year that, in addition to carrying out cyberattacks, Chinese authorities have used agents posing as diplomats to recruit Germans, often under the guise of economic or scientific exchanges, to bring them to China and try to recruit them as spies.
Still, investigations and prosecutions, especially involving German nationals, have been rare, making this probe notable.
The investigation centers on the co-manager of a German lobbying firm with offices in China who previously worked as a senior diplomat, including in ambassadorial posts, according to people familiar with the case.
A lawyer for the lobbying firm, which hasn’t been identified by prosecutors, declined to comment.
The spokesman for the German prosecutor in charge of the probe declined to confirm the identity of the suspects, and under German privacy laws their names can’t be disclosed by authorities or the media.
Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Berlin couldn’t be reached for comment.
Police searched the offices and private residences of the three suspects in the early hours of Wednesday across Germany and in Belgium, where officers secured potential evidence including computer drives, according to the prosecutor’s spokesman.
The German investigation was earlier reported by the German magazine Spiegel.